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More study partners on board; methodological updates; gearing up for results

May 13, 2020 by Alan Brown

It's been nearly a month since we announced the Covid-19 Audience Outlook Monitor and there is much to report. What germinated in early March as a vague idea about the need to hear from audiences regarding their feelings about going out again to cultural events has blossomed into an international tracking study of a proportion I never could have imagined. I am deeply grateful to the hundreds of arts leaders who've signed on to the study through the generosity and support of many governmental arts agencies, arts service organizations, and foundation funders. Here's a quick round-up:

Partnership Updates

  • Our partnership with four leading US service organizations has deepened. Theatre Development Fund, Arts Boston, the League of Chicago Theatres, and Theatre Bay Area will all deploy the survey semi-monthly to their internal lists of discount ticket buyers, providing a steady stream of findings. Each of these organizations will also host a multi-disciplinary cohort study in their respective cities, deploying either monthly or bi-monthly.

  • We are pleased to welcome The Music Center of Los Angeles County as a study partner. Through this partnership, the Music Center and its resident companies - Center Theatre Group, LA Phil, LA Opera, and the Los Angeles Master Chorale - will deploy the survey beginning this month.

  • We are pleased to welcome ArtsWave (Cincinnati) as a regional partner. Through its funding of the study, 20 cultural organizations in Cincinnati will form a cohort and move through the study together, joining similar cohorts in Detroit, Atlanta, Boston, New York City, Chicago and San Francisco.

  • We are pleased to welcome the New Jersey Theatre Alliance as a regional partner. Through this partnership, a cohort of 15 theatres in New Jersey, Connecticut and Pennsylvania will join the study.

  • We are pleased to announce a partnership with our colleagues at AMS Analytics. Through this partnership, AMS and WolfBrown will collaborate to bring the study to major performing arts centers in the US and abroad, and to a cohort of university presenters.

  • We are in discussions with AMS to create opportunities for individual organizations not affiliated with a funded cohort to join the study. Stay tuned for details.

  • On May 16, TYA/USA, the leading national organization for the professional field of theatre for children and families, will announce a partnership with WolfBrown to bring the Covid-19 study to its members.

  • Our partner in Norway, NPU/Audiences Norway has secured support from the Norwegian Arts Council and The Association of Norwegian Theatres and Orchestras, and will be deploying a version of the survey adapted for the Norwegian context later in May. Discussions with potential partners in other Nordic countries are underway.

  • Discussions are also underway with funders and service organizations in Canada and other countries, but nothing to announce quite yet.

Methodological Updates

  • The survey protocol for the first wave of deployments has been designed, validity tested, refined, pilot tested, and is now finalized, with a great deal of input from arts managers in various cities. The survey incorporates a number of "time series" questions that will repeat with each deployment, to show movement over time. Other questions will explore a range of specialized topics. For example, the initial protocol delves into audience attitudes about distancing and other in-venue safety protocols. In designing the survey it dawned on us that we have no idea what questions we'll need to be asking later in the summer, so we've created a study design that will allow us to address emerging topics as time marches on.

  • Our thinking about frequency of data collection has also evolved a great deal in the last few weeks. While the original impetus was to collect data every two months, we have come to see that two months will be an eternity in the current business environment, and arts leaders will need more data, more often. So, many of our partners are now deploying the survey either monthly or semi-monthly, which will allow us to identify trends much earlier. Some are deploying through September, and others through December. If necessary, the timeline will extend into 2021.

  • We also plan to design discussion guides for virtual focus groups and provide them for free to everyone in the study for self-implementation. These materials will be posted to the website where anyone can download them. This will also allow us to address emerging issues through a qualitative lens.

  • Thanks to a herculean effort by our Australian partner, Patternmakers, the survey launched last week to the patron lists of over 150 arts organizations across Australia. Over 23,000 individuals completed the survey, and we'll be gearing up this week to bring organizations across Australia into the dashboard for the first time.

In speaking with our current and potential overseas partners I have come to believe that we will all benefit a great deal from keeping track of how other countries go about the process of re-opening their arts sectors, since some of them are significantly ahead of the curve in relation to the US, both in terms of declining infection rates and in formulating cautious, data-driven policies that will determine how and when venues are allowed to open.

Survey results will start to pour in soon, and we'll quickly transition to a more frequent schedule of updates via email, the website, and social media. A first-rate team of communications specialists has joined the WolfBrown team and is gearing up now to support the field in making sense of the coming onslaught of information. Reporting from all the cities and countries in the study will be freely available.

In so many ways this is not a traditional research project. There is no time or budget for the kind of deep statistical analysis and fancy reports that we normally produce. Instead, results will be disseminated in real time to participating organizations through a custom dashboard interface. Within a week of each deployment we'll be hosting videoconferences with cohorts of organizations to discuss the results. Success, therefore, depends on the willingness of people like you to dive into the data, make sense of it from your perspective, and then share what you think with others in order to distill higher level truths.

Out of necessity we must, and will, find a different way of learning as a field. Like you, we are in new territory here at WolfBrown. The shape of this research is completely unique in scope and scale, and will continue to adapt and evolve as the opportunities and challenges facing the sector come into clearer focus.

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The Covid-19 Audience Outlook Monitor study team, as of May 12, 2020:

Research/Professional Partners

WolfBrown Team

Megan Bander, Alan Brown, John Carnwath, Benjamin Geibel, Erin Gold, Alan Kline, Kyle Marinshaw, Dennie Palmer Wolf

Communications Team

Tiffany Bradley, Ron Evans, Frank Rizzo

AMS Analytics /AMS Planning & Research

Jordan Gross-Richmond, Steven Wolff

Patternmakers (Australia)

Tandi Palmer Williams, Bianca Mulet, Jodie Bombardier, Aurora Nowosad

NPU/Audiences Norway

Ingrid E. Handeland

Commissioning Partners - United States

CultureSource (Detroit)

The Arthur M. Blank Family Foundation (Atlanta)

ArtsWave (Cincinnati)

Theatre Bay Area

Arts Boston

Theatre Development Fund (New York City)

League of Chicago Theatres

New Jersey Theatre Alliance

Music Center of Los Angeles County

Commissioning Partners - International

NPU/Audiences Norway

Australia Council for the Arts

Creative Victoria

Create NSW

Arts Queensland

Department of Premier and Cabinet (South Australia)

Department of Local Government, Sport and Culture (Western Australia)


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